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Push to expand internationalisation at UTokyo

The University of Tokyo’s new five-year combined bachelors and masters degree launching in 2027 will be comprised of 50% international students, as Japan strives for greater internationalisation in higher education.  

University of Tokyo red brick building.The University of Tokyo ranked 29th in THE's world university rankings 2024. Photo: Unsplash.

"Japan’s workforce must become more highly skilled and globally facing"

The announcement comes after Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida set an ambitious new internationalisation plan in April 2023, on the basis that young people studying abroad “is the key to transforming society”. 

The program will be part of the university’s new interdisciplinary College of Design, spanning the humanities and sciences and focusing on technological solutions to global issues such as climate change, according to the university.  

Classes will be taught in English and students can select undergraduate and graduate courses ranging from education to medical care and public service that are already offered at UTokyo. The program also includes one year studying outside of the university, either in industry or abroad.  

Since 1990 the number of 18-year-olds in Japan has halved to just over one million, making up about one percent of the country’s total population.  

This rapidly shrinking youth population is causing a decline in the number of university applicants and the closure of private universities – which comprise over 80% of higher education institutions – is widely anticipated, Anna Esaki-Smith, cofounder of research consultancy Education Rethink told The PIE.  

UTokyo’s new program comes as the university aims to raise the proportion of international students to at least 30% at undergraduate level and 40% at graduate level by 2049, up from 2% and 30% respectively.  

The fact that the internationalisation policy was announced by the prime minister rather than the education minister emphasises the importance being placed on attracting more overseas students, according to Esaki-Smith. 

In accordance with the national policy, UTokyo launched its Centre for Global Education in April 2023, offering “robust support for the internationalisation of all students” including English-taught courses that focus on the UN’s sustainable development goals.  

Admission to the program will forgo entrance exams typical of Japanese universities and will instead be based around individual applications more like other countries around the world.  

The school year will also be aligned with overseas institutions, starting in autumn 2027 rather than April as is customary in Japan.  

Japan’s ageing population is having an adverse effect on the country’s economy which slipped below Germany’s to become the world’s fourth largest economy in 2023.  

To be more competitive, “Japan’s workforce must become more highly skilled and globally facingsaid Esaki-Smith.

“Attracting foreign investment and creating an international labour market are part of the country’s economic plan”, which includes the greater internationalisation of higher education, she added. 

UTokyo, Japan’s oldest and largest university, was ranked 29th in THE’s 2024 overall university world rankings, the highest of any Japanese institution.  

International fees at UTokyo are significantly cheaper than many other global destinations, with undergraduate fees starting at 485,900 yen (£3,520). The country is also known for being among the safest in the world and attracts students for its pop culture and cuisine.  

However, according to Esaki-Smith the deliverance of more English-taught degrees has been met with resistance at some institutions where faculty are either reluctant to change or lack the ability to teach in English.  

“This is a significant challenge for many universities and will require not only training but a cultural change in terms of institutional priorities,” said Esaki-Smith.  

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